Diluc is no longer the beautiful young man who Venti met fifty years ago. By this time, he has wrinkles on his skin, wrinkles that are inevitable even if he had listened to Venti’s fussing over how he should frown less to reduce them. His hair is no longer red as flames, thin, pale grey color is spreading over his pure white pillow. Diluc no longer looks how he looked back when Venti fell in love with him, but Venti is still fond of him all the same. Venti is by Diluc’s bedside, holding his thin, rough hands, the color of his vein visible on his skin.
“It won’t be long now,” Diluc croaks quietly. Speaking seems difficult for him as it is, and Venti isn’t sure if telling Diluc to be quiet would increase the time they have left together. Diluc’s frail hand grips on to Venti’s. He’s so weak now, Venti realizes. Weak enough that he will not be able to wield his claymore.
So, Venti closes his eyes. He places a gentle kiss on the back of Diluc’s hand.
“I know,” he says softly.
Unlike Diluc, Venti looks the same as he did when they first met. Still ever-youthful, still light-footed. His skin is still supple and soft. His hair is still the same color, pitch black with its green tips in braids.
Venti is going to continue to look like this for decades, centuries more to come. Venti is going to continue living, singing, and drinking like he’s always had. And it’s likely that starting from tomorrow, he would have to do it without Diluc.
To many others, Venti is sure that Diluc has lived a long life. He has lived a good life as master of Dawn Winery. To many others, Diluc lived to a ripe old age. But to Venti, the time he spent with Diluc feels far too short. After all, what is fifty, sixty years to an immortal god? Nothing more than a fleeting dream, beautiful as it may be.
Venti does not want to let go of Diluc’s hand just yet. Even though Diluc is older now, even though Diluc may not have the conventional beauty that’s associated with youth now, Venti knows that he still loves Diluc. That for the next few years, he would struggle to live, alone once more without someone by his side.
Yet he knows, perhaps just as keenly as Diluc, that Diluc is not meant to last today. That Diluc is not meant to see tomorrow with Venti.
It’s not that he didn’t know that Diluc wouldn’t last for an eternity with him. But he still doesn’t know how to react with the end being so near. He still does not know how should he feel. All he knows is the heaviness in his chest making him feel like he can’t fly away from any of this. All he knows is despite the pain he’s feeling, he does not want to let go of Diluc’s hand. That he wants to feel every moment of Diluc’s life that he can.
“Are you going to travel, then?” Diluc asks softly.
“I suppose I will,” Venti replies just as softly. “What’s left for me here?”
Mondstadt is a city that values its freedom. Venti knows there’s little he can offer to them as their god. And as their god, he does not want to impose anything on this city. This city that he loves. This city that Diluc loves. Yet this city that they both love does not need a god. Venti has stayed in the past decades, living by Diluc’s side. Being loved in his own way. Diluc was where the wind had taken him, and by Diluc he had stayed.
But truly, now that Diluc won’t see tomorrow, what does tomorrow in Mondstadt hold for Venti?
He will stay, for as long as Diluc breathes. He will hold Diluc’s hand, for as long as he can.
Even if it won’t be long now. Even if soon, Venti would once again lose the place where he can be.
“A glass of wine for the singer!” a drunk voice calls out through the cheering of the crowd. Well then, Venti would never say no to that. He smiles as the bartender pours him a drink in a glass. He downs it, tasting that the wine of Mondstadt is truly the most delicious in all of Teyvat.
While Venti has enjoyed his years of travel, there’s always something he especially enjoys about performing in this city. This tavern, The Angel’s Share, in particular, is always welcoming and warm. Warm from the alcohol, warm, perhaps, from its central heating and electric lamps.
On the outside, Mondstadt looks exactly as Venti remembers it, save for a few glass buildings and high rise here and there. But even the buildings that take on the classic look are far too new, rebuilt to the facade of traditional Mondstadt despite having all the benefits of modernity. Venti has heard from his travels, of course, how the people of Mondstadt pioneer electricity powered by wind energy. How the people of Mondstadt, with all their freedom, created a city that’s always lit and always warm. Some people attribute this to the power of Barbatos. After all, it is the wind that powers their city. The wind that Venti knows doesn’t have much to do with him right now. Some attribute it, rightly so, to the ingenuity of the people of Mondstadt.
Still, despite how different Mondstadt is now, with its people dressed differently and the city running on electricity, stepping through the gates of Mondstadt makes Venti feel like he’s coming home. And playing music in a so-called traditional tavern especially makes Venti feel like he’s home.
His songs are still a hit in pubs, even if it’s considered a niche interest on streaming services. He is not famous, at least, not outside the rank of drunks. And Venti relishes that anonymity. He likes being a person in Mondstadt, a young man who sings and not a god. Not an idol, in any sense of the word.
“It’s rare to have someone play with a lyre these days,” a voice says, not exactly to Venti but overheard by him all the same. “It’s such a classic sound.”
“And those hilarious stories about Barbatos!” another exclaims. “If that’s what the church tells, I’d probably go to church a little more often.”
Venti smiles to himself, satisfied with a job well done. He drinks down his wine to the very last drop. He got some mora from performing earlier, he thinks, and it’s not like he needs to use mora for anything else. Just as he’s about to order another drink, however, he hears a familiar voice by his side.
“Wine for the singer,” the voice says with a cool tone.
Venti’s eyes widen as he looks to his side.
Red hair, tied in a ponytail. Matching red eyes. Pale skin. Sharp features. A man clad in all black, with a form-fitting leather jacket over his ensemble.
No, that can’t be true.
“Diluc?” Venti spills out the name from between his lips.
The man looks straight at Venti. There’s a flicker of recognition in his eyes. But no, he can’t be Diluc. Diluc passed away a thousand years ago, with Venti by his bedside. Diluc’s hand had grown weak in Venti’s own. Diluc should no longer be in Mondstadt, even if Venti’s memory kept reminding him of Diluc.
“How do you know my name?” the man asks.
“Ah,” Venti exclaims quietly. So this man is called Diluc too? But he cannot say anything more. He cannot manage a lie, not with those familiar red eyes looking straight into his own.
“I see,” this man -- this Diluc says. “And you must be Venti.”
And out of nowhere, he picks up Venti’s hand, placing a kiss on the back of it. Then, he looks at Venti with those pretty red eyes, his expression hard to read even for a god who’s lived for thousands of years.
“I’ve been looking for you,” Diluc says softly. “For you, the person who keeps appearing in my dreams.”
Venti is silenced by Diluc’s proclamation. Of course, Venti knows as well as anyone in Teyvat how important dreams can be. Of course, Venti knows that sometimes, the will of a previous life could be so strong that it carries on to the next life, over and over again. And Diluc, the Diluc Venti loved a thousand years ago, was definitely a stubborn man. Stubborn enough, Venti supposed, to be reborn in this way, with the same face, the same name, the same memories that manifest as dreams to his current self.
“You’ve seen them too, haven’t you?” Diluc asks. He’s absolutely serious about this. “That’s how you know my name.”
“That’s,” Venti starts, then he goes quiet, breathing in deeply. “No, I don’t know you from a dream.”
I know you from another life, I know you so intimately, back then. But Venti does not want to say this. Venti does not want to get to know Diluc once again, not after his death has left Venti lost and wandering for close to a century.
No, Diluc, or any reincarnation of his, is not someone Venti wants to fall in love with again. He’s gone through that and spent time hurt due to that. And he knows that the more he sees this Diluc’s clear red eyes, that he’s going to end up falling. Just this small interaction is enough to sway him, ever so slightly, what would come about with more?
“But you know me,” Diluc insists.
“Lucky guess,” Venti tries to shrug off.
“Diluc isn’t a common name,” Diluc pushes back.
“Okay, fine,” Venti says with a deep breath. “You sort of look like an old friend of mine.”
“But now that I get a closer look at you, I can see you two look completely different,” Venti lies.
Now that he has a closer look at the Diluc in front of him, he can see that he looks exactly like the Diluc of Venti’s past. It really feels as if Diluc has come back to life, sitting right by his side once more. Venti does not like what that’s doing to him. It makes his heart beat that little bit faster, it makes him want to grab Diluc right there and then and place a kiss on his lips to see if a kiss would still feel the same as the ones in his memory.
“And this friend is called Diluc as well?” Diluc asks inquisitively.
“Yes,” Venti huffs, turning away from Diluc. The bartender has filled his glass with wine once more, and Venti takes a sip. Dandelion wine, ever exquisite. He exhales a deep sigh from how good the wine is.
Diluc looks at him fondly, with the smile, small and familiar.
“So you like our wine,” he says. He taps on Venti’s glass to get the bartender to refill Venti’s glass once more.
“And are you not drinking, Master Diluc?” Venti retorts back, his tone sounding more playful than his brain is telling him to be. Silly Venti, he thinks to himself, the alcohol must be getting to him. The alcohol and this sense of nostalgia of Diluc right by his side.
“I don’t drink,” Diluc says sternly.
Once again, a young master of Dawn Winery. Once again, not much for alcohol.
“Shame,” Venti says as he takes another glass of the wine, sipping on it slowly this time, savoring the taste of every drop. “Are you going to get me another cup?”
“Are you going to perform another song?” Diluc counters with his own question.
Would it be so bad to perform another song, even if it’s at the behest of Diluc? He likes performing and he likes wine, so perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad. Besides, performing would allow him to step away from Diluc.
“Alright,” Venti says with a soft giggle. “I’ll sing.”
Feeling sentimental, Venti sings of love, now. Of Barbatos and the man he fell in love with a thousand years ago.
Diluc’s bed at the Dawn Winery was comfortable, and Venti felt like he could spend his entire day wrapped up in its sheets. He snuggled against Diluc’s warm body as he felt the chills of the morning on his toes. He leaned his head down on Diluc’s firm chest as he listened to Diluc’s heartbeat under him.
“You’re heavy,” Diluc said, the first thing he said that morning.
“I’m light as the wind,” Venti replied with a burst of bright laughter. He made no move to shift himself away from Diluc, instead entrusting his body further on Diluc’s, leaning all of his weight on Diluc’s body. Then, he shifted himself up, placing a kiss on Diluc’s lips. A light, airy kiss that felt more like a quick brush of lips.
Diluc ran his hands down Venti’s hair. There was a fondness to how he looked at Venti, a softness that Venti loved to indulge in.
“Good morning, Master Diluc,” Venti said softly, his voice barely carried around the room. Yes, his voice, quiet and affectionate, was meant for Diluc alone.
“Good morning,” Diluc replied. He placed a kiss on Venti’s forehead and ran his hand through Venti’s hair.
This was perfect, Venti thought back then. But even then, in all the perfection of the small moment, he knew that it was not going to last.
Diluc became a regular at Angel’s Share after the first night that they met, and Venti isn’t sure how to handle it. He supposes it’s fine if Diluc wants to listen to him. It’s fine if Diluc wants to buy him wine. It’s not like he can chase Diluc out, what with his family owning Angel’s Share. On top of it, he likes performing at Angel’s Share. His niche music is well-received in this tavern and that might not be the case elsewhere.
It should be fine, Venti thinks. He decides he’s going to keep their conversation light. He’s going to keep Diluc at an arm’s length away.
“Can I see you outside of this bar?” Diluc eventually asks after buying Venti yet another cup of wine. And Venti simply smiles back at him.
“No,” he says, his voice light and playful, even if he’s being truly frank. No, he wants to maintain this distance between him and Diluc. No, they can simply be a singer and an audience who sometimes buy him a drink.
“Why not?” Diluc asks, his voice firm and serious, his gaze earnest even if slightly hurt.
“Because I’m not going to fall for you,” Venti says, even if the words don’t quite leave him easily. He’s fully aware that it’s exactly the opposite. He doesn’t want to see Diluc outside of this tavern because it would be far too easy to fall for Diluc again.
Diluc snorts. He drinks down his non-alcohol apple cider, a drink that Venti considers to be blasphemous towards his name as Barbatos.
“I just want to know the meaning behind these dreams,” Diluc murmurs quietly. “Why do I keep seeing you?”
“Maybe because I’m pretty,” Venti teases back.
If he is to tell the truth, he knows exactly why Diluc keeps dreaming of him. It must be the will of the previous Diluc. Memories and feelings that are so strong that it crosses through bodies and time. To tell the truth, it plucks a string in Venti’s heart to know that his Diluc, the Diluc from a thousand years ago, loved him to that extent. It makes the hundred or so years he had to spend getting over Diluc feel justified.
But that’s a truth that he’s not going to reveal to this Diluc. They can stay like this, a performer and his audience, a drunk and someone who buys him drinks.
“Hmph,” Diluc crosses his arms. “There has to be something more to it.”
So he’s not denying that he finds Venti pretty. This brings a smile to Venti’s face. It’s always nice to know his looks are appreciated. It’s a look he’s had for thousands of years, after all. It’s a homage to his friend, but at the same time, it’s a look he’s grown comfortable with and proud of.
“A dream is a dream,” Venti laughs off.
He watches for Diluc’s reaction, red eyes still keenly on Venti’s face. It seems like the young master is studying him, trying to see the traces of the Venti is in his dream. He wonders what Diluc finds in him.
“But you really won’t go for coffee?” Diluc asks.
“I’m not a coffee kind of person,” Venti says lightly. “I enjoy wine more.”
That much is true. As a god, Venti does not feel sleepy. As such, caffeine does not affect him. Surprisingly, alcohol does make him feel something. A pleasant buzz, really. And that’s why he likes alcohol a lot more. It actually affects him. And he enjoys that.
“I guess I’ll have to buy you more wine, then,” Diluc mutters, not entirely pleased with this arrangement.
Hearing him say this draws out a burst of laughter from Venti, one he silences as soon as he realizes it, as soon as he sees the way Diluc looks at him curiously. It’s strange hearing that in Diluc’s voice, from lips that look identical to his former lover. It’s strange, considering how concerned Diluc was with Venti’s drinking habit, to have his reincarnation buy him drinks in hope of talking to him. Yet it’s not an arrangement Venti is going to say no to. He appreciates a free drink as much as any. It’s not like he’s going to shake off Diluc any time soon, so he might as well enjoy this for now.
Enjoy the free drinks, that is. Or at least, that’s what he tells himself. He doesn’t want to enjoy the young master’s company. He does not want to get lost in the subtle movements on Diluc’s face.
He tips his glass over, and Diluc signals for the bartender to fill it up.
“There’s really no wine quite like Mondstadt wine,” Venti says appreciatively. “Thank you, Master Diluc.”
“If you give me a chance, I’d show you there’s no coffee quite like the one in Mondstadt too,” Diluc says.
Venti shakes his head exasperatedly. Looks like Diluc’s reincarnation is as stubborn as the Diluc that Venti loved a thousand years ago.
But this is the distance Venti is okay with. A stool apart in the tavern where he first met Diluc on that fateful night. A respectable distance to make sure that he does not make the mistake of loving a mortal once more.
The tree at Windrise is still where Venti goes to recharge his energy. While he does not need sleep like a human, he still gets tired, and the shade of the giant tree never fails to revitalize him. He closes his eyes as he feels the energy flow right through him. The tree, being where Vennessa rose, always reminds him of Vennessa. In fact, it’s probably the only place in Mondstadt outside of Stormterror’s Lair where the memory of Vennessa is stronger for him than the memory of Diluc.
After all, he’s only spent a short time with Vennessa. A short time with the bard he took his look after. Yet he spent a human’s lifetime with Diluc. When Diluc passed away, a human’s lifetime felt all too short. Yet now, he realizes he’s done a lot with Diluc during that time, so much so that Mondstadt, despite all its changes, keeps reminding him of Diluc.
“It sucks, you know?” he vents to the tree in front of him, touching its large trunk with his bare hand. He wonders if Vennessa can hear him up in Celestia. He wants to believe she can, even if it means her knowing all of his troubles. “Falling in love with a mortal isn’t easy.”
But he knows that even if Vennessa can hear him, all he will get from the tree is silence. He chuckles as he scratches the back of his head.
“I keep seeing him again,” Venti continues. “Diluc, that is. He’s exactly the same as he was a thousand years ago. Ah, except he still has his parents now, apparently.”
Venti inhales, then exhales sharply. The energy from the tree is still flowing through his veins, making him feel warm and vulnerable. Warm and vulnerable enough to admit what he does not want to admit.
“Him being around me every night makes me,” Venti starts, pauses, and smiles wryly, even if all of that is to himself. “It makes me feel things again. It’s hard not to. His name is Diluc. He looks like Diluc. He even acts like Diluc.”
It’s like confessing all his feelings, hoping that it would make his chest lighter. Hoping that it would make him light as the wind once more, unattached, unaffected, no longer in love with a stubborn mortal.
“I’ve fallen in love with Diluc Ragnvindr once before,” Venti says with a soft voice. “I don’t want to fall for him again only for him to leave me once more. No, thank you. That had hurt me more than I liked.”
His absence had hurt Venti more than he liked. Venti misses all his human companions, of course, he does. He’s not devoid of feelings, after all. But to love someone, to be loved by someone, has let him experience something he never had before Diluc. It has let him experience happiness and pain in amounts his small vessel could not quite take. Even now, as he confesses everything to Vennessa, he feels his body tremble. He feels his heart clenching at the thought of Diluc.
“Maybe you’d know what to do, Vennessa,” Venti says softly. Vennessa was brave. Vennessa was clever. Vennessa in Celestia right now might be a witness to human nature to an extent that a god can never be. Venti leans his forehead against the trunk of the tree, hoping for answers.
But there is none for him. There is none for a foolish god, wishing for something he cannot even grant. None for a foolish bard who feels too much when he wants to feel nothing at all.
“I’ve always liked your songs,” Diluc said.
He was much older and a little more honest when he said this to Venti. They had spent years together, and Venti was singing as he sat on the armrest by Diluc’s side, plucking white hairs from Diluc’s brilliant red locks. They had faded over the years, but Venti did not want to believe in that. He did not want to accept that Diluc aged. That Diluc was frailer, wiser, older, and approaching the dusk of his life.
“You’ve never told me that,” Venti said with a giggle. “So, why are you telling me this now?”
“I just wanted to,” Diluc said. And Venti could hear all the unsaid words. Diluc just wanted to, while he can. Diluc just wanted to, before it was too late.
Venti leaned in, burying his face in Diluc’s neck.
“Now, what’s with you?” Diluc chided him softly.
“I just wanted to,” Venti echoed.
To feel this warmth, while he still can. To be with Diluc, before it was too late.
“You don’t have to help me clean up,” the bartender tells Venti with a soft smile.
Despite his words, Venti could tell that he’s overwhelmed by the mess today. Friday nights are always rowdy, and Venti’s song about Barbatos tricking Liyue’s Rex Lapis has riled everyone up even more. The story, of course, is a lie. Venti has never truly succeeded in tricking Rex Lapis. But the people of Mondstadt love Barbatos and love a happy ending, so Venti put his own twist to the tale.
“It’s alright,” Venti says cheerfully. “I’m not in a rush to get anywhere.”
“Even though it’s this late?” the bartender asks.
This, Venti simply smiles at. After all, he does not have to disclose that he does not have a home to go back to.
He’s sweeping through the bar when the door suddenly opens.
“Sorry,” the bartender says. “We’re -- Master Diluc, what are you doing here?”
The sound of the name causes Venti to look up from his work. Tonight, Diluc had come early in the evening, listening to Venti’s song and leaving halfway through. He left instructions to the bartender to give Venti a drink, so Venti had been satisfied with that, even if, much to Venti’s chagrin, he sort of missed talking to Diluc.
Still, he had assumed Diluc had some sort of young master duty to attend to.
Seeing Diluc right now, however, he knows right away that was not the case. His eyes widen as he sees a tear on Diluc’s black clothes, blood gushing out from an open wound.
Ah, he’s truly Diluc, after all, Venti thinks.
“Master Diluc,” Venti comes over to where he is, shaking his head. “What were you doing?”
“None of your business,” Diluc says, but there’s nothing scary in the voice of someone who’s hurt this badly. There’s something vulnerable instead, and this is a vulnerability Venti is all too familiar with.
After all, the Diluc he was in love with continued his nightly activities until he was too old and too weak to hold a claymore.
“Venti,” the bartender says quietly. He’s holding a first aid kit in his hands.
“I’ll take care of him,” Venti says, trying to smile in an assuring way to the bartender. The bartender then nods, leaving the first aid kit with Venti.
But Venti does not start with the first aid kit. He starts with his wind, cleaning Diluc’s wound. The wound is definitely not fatal. Really, it’s a scratch compared to the wounds Venti was used to seeing on Diluc, but disinfecting it is always the way to go. Diluc watches as the wind cleans up the wound, looking rather surprised by the whole thing.
“You have it too,” he says softly. “A vision.”
“Something like that,” Venti waves off. “Come now, take off your sweater.”
Diluc complies, perhaps being rather stunned to object towards Venti. He exposes his toned body, taut muscles shaped on his slender frame from all his exercise and his nightly work. Venti holds back an appreciative whistle, concentrating on Diluc’s wound instead. He uses the bandages to close it up, patting it when he’s done.
“There,” he says as Diluc winces. “Really, Master Diluc, you should be more careful.”
“You talk as if you know what I was doing,” Diluc grumbles.
“I can guess,” Venti says with a grin.
“Oh?” Diluc tilts his head to the side. “Guess, then.”
“You’re a man with a strong sense of justice,” Venti says. This is the Diluc he knows, and from the quiet reaction of the Diluc in front of him, this is the Diluc now. “You must be fighting against some criminals, am I wrong?”
Diluc clicks his tongue.
“You are not,” he admits.
“And I cannot stop you, Master Diluc,” Venti says. He knows he can’t. It’s not in Diluc’s nature to stop. “But you should be more careful. Your wound this time is a scratch wound, but what about next time?”
At this, Diluc smirks,
“A lot of worry for someone who said that he wouldn’t fall for me,” Diluc murmurs.
Habit, Venti realizes, is hard to break. And the same applies to himself. He’s so used to taking care of Diluc after his vigilante activities. He’s so used to worrying for Diluc.
“Any decent person would worry,” Venti tries to excuse himself, keeping up a cheery, playful tone.
Diluc puts his sweater back on, then his jacket over it. The sweater is rather form-fitting, so Venti can see the slight bumps of the bandages under his clothes. Even after all those years helping Diluc, Venti has never gotten neater with how he bandages. He’s always a little too rushed, a little too clumsy.
“Thank you,” Diluc says. He’s about to leave the tavern when Venti realizes something.
“Wait,” Venti calls out to Diluc. “I’ll walk you home.”
Sometimes, Diluc would go back to fighting after his wound is treated. Considering how similar Diluc is now to his past self, Venti wouldn’t put it past him to do that now. He might as well ensure that Diluc does not hurt himself further tonight.
“No coffee, but you’d walk me home?” Diluc raises an eyebrow. “You sure give mix signals.”
“You’re hurt,” Venti reminds Diluc. “And stubborn. So if I don’t see you home, who knows what you’d do.”
And from the look on Diluc’s face, Venti’s words are hitting bulls-eye.
“Come on, Master Diluc,” Venti grins right at the other man. “Let’s go home.”
“Do you know where I live?” Diluc asks, raising an eyebrow.
“Dawn Winery, right?” Venti replies, shrugging like it’s common knowledge. This Diluc has told him that he’s a Ragnvindr, so he would live in Dawn Winery.
Now that’s a place Venti has not stepped a foot on since the old Diluc passed away. Like Stormterror Lair reminds him of his old bard friend and the giant tree of Windrise reminds him of Vennessa, Dawn Winery is the place he associates most with Diluc. After all, it’s where they had spent a good amount of their time. Dawn Winery, for the duration the old Diluc was there, was home to Venti.
“That’s where my parents live,” Diluc says. “I live in an apartment in town.”
“Ah,” Venti nods, deciding it’s probably for the best that he does not go to Dawn Winery with Diluc. It would be too many memories, too many emotions that he might not be able to control. “Then lead the way, Master Diluc.”
They walk through Mondstadt together. Unlike the Mondstadt of a thousand years ago, night time does nothing to fade the lights and beauty of Mondstadt. With electricity, the city is beautifully lit even at night.
Venti lets out a pleased sigh. His city has truly done well for itself.
“I see,” Diluc says softly. “You’re fond of Mondstadt as well.”
“You can see that?” Venti asks with a coy smile.
This is not the first time he sees this new Mondstadt. But this is the first time he’s seeing it with Diluc.
“Of course,” Diluc says. “You look so fond of it.”
“And are you not fond of it, Master Diluc?” Venti asks back teasingly.
“I love Mondstadt,” Diluc says, plainly and earnestly. He’s not shy to admit it, not hesitant at the very least. He looks towards the towering buildings, the brightly lit city glowing right in front of them and his lips curl into a small smile. “I love this city.”
“Me too,” Venti mutters back without thinking.
It was their mutual love for Mondstadt that brought him together with the Diluc of a thousand years ago, and now, hearing this statement from Diluc, he can’t help but be drawn to him once more.
Those red eyes, looking so fondly at the city. That perfectly aligned face with the light of the city shining down on it. The messy bandages, with outlines barely visible on his tight sweater.
This is Diluc, it hits Venti. Entirely Diluc, who he once loved, who he once spent a human lifetime beside.
“What?” Diluc suddenly asks. “You’re looking at me funny.”
The voice, breaking him out of his reverie. Venti smiles at Diluc as he stretches his arms.
“I was just thinking, it’s good you were born in Mondstadt,” he says, holding back an again from the end of that sentence. He truly can’t imagine Diluc belonging anywhere else. Diluc truly belongs to Mondstadt, and Mondstadt loves him for it.
“Funny way of saying it,” Diluc huffs. “But I’m glad I was born in Mondstadt too.”
The two of them walk together until they reach a chic-looking apartment building. This particular building is brand new, built in a modern style. It reaches out above the smaller, traditional buildings around it.
“Do you want to come inside?” Diluc asks.
Venti weighs this in his mind before shaking his head.
“I should head back,” he lies.
Enough of Diluc for one night. Enough of feelings he can’t process for one night. He just has to hope that Diluc would be good and not sneak out once more.
“Okay,” Diluc says. Then, firmly and earnestly: “Thank you, again.”
“For the messy bandages? They’re not even mine,” Venti laughs off, keeping things light between them.
“For everything,” Diluc says in that quiet, honest voice.
And it catches Venti’s breath within his lung. It grips on to him like a feeling that wouldn’t let go of him.
So he forces himself to grin.
“Back home you go,” he says, hearing the shakiness of his own voice. “And I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yes,” Diluc says, a small smile on his face. That smile, exactly as Venti remembers it to be. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Venti finds himself on the roof of the building across Diluc’s apartment that night. At first, he wonders if he could see Diluc through the window. Then he realizes that’s silly, because not only are the apartment building equipped with darkened windows for privacy, he does not even know which of its many units belongs to Diluc.
He’s bought himself a can of beer from a convenience store, thankful that he did not get carded despite his youthful appearance. He supposes, at this time of the night, the cashier no longer cares. Still, the beer is bitter on his tongue and is nowhere near as pleasant as the wine served at Angel’s Share.
“Diluc,” he mutters the name. It’s strange. He hasn’t said the name for so long, as it became almost taboo to him when Diluc passed away. And now, in the span of a few weeks, the name keeps coming up on his tongue. He buries his head in his knees, as he whispers it once more: “Diluc.”
Diluc has been reincarnated into himself once more. Same look, same name, same personality, and the same love for justice and Mondstadt that drew Venti in the first time. Stubborn Diluc, Venti thinks, coming back the same even after a thousand of years.
It makes him wonder if Diluc had come back before, in between a thousand years ago and now. It makes him wonder if Diluc had dreamt of him in different lives. If Diluc had looked for him in different lives, only for him to be absent. Only for him to be away, nursing a broken heart and trying to forget.
And Venti realizes now, he’s never truly forgotten Diluc.
“This isn’t fair,” Venti mutters to himself as his hand holds on to the can of beer, stirring its content mindlessly. “Didn’t you want me to move on? To travel?”
Venti has traveled throughout Teyvat. Venti has tried so damn hard to at least hide his broken heart, only for Diluc to come back in this next life, grabbing it out of his chest and exposing it for him to face.
He finishes his can of beer as he watches the door of the apartment. No one seems to be leaving, which means at least Diluc isn’t going out and getting injured once more. Still, it’s not like Venti has anywhere to go. He can sit here for a little while longer, making sure that Diluc is truly getting the rest he needs.
“I should’ve gotten more beer,” Venti murmurs.
No one answers to him in this quiet night, just the city, shining back at him as if telling him that he should stay. That like Diluc, he belongs here in the city of winds.
Venti got used to waking up in Dawn Winery, the bed beside him still warm from Diluc’s body. Diluc, despite all his nighttime activities, always made it a point to wake up early. And whilst Venti did not need sleep and had never needed sleep, he wished that Diluc would stay in bed just a little while longer. He liked feeling Diluc’s body against his. He liked being by Diluc’s side.
“Master Diluc,” Venti muttered as he got up. Diluc was dressed in his usual black outfit, and it always looked good on him. This time, he had his hair down, the long red locks falling over his shoulders. It was still messy, unbrushed, and tangled in places. The sight brought a smile to Venti’s face. “Let me brush that for you.”
Venti was not the gentlest when it came to brushing hair. In fact, he was a little rushed, impatient as always. But Diluc didn’t complain. Diluc never complained. He winced and that simply brought Venti to laughter.
“I love you, you know that,” Venti said as he leaned over Diluc’s shoulder. He placed a gentle kiss on Diluc’s skin, feeling the wrinkles that had been appearing against his lips. He gave Diluc no time to respond before moving away, going back to working on Diluc’s hair.
“Hey,” Diluc called out softly. He looked up over his shoulder to Venti. “I love you too.”
Venti smiled. He was never happier than at this time, not even in his thousands of years. Venti smiled, feeling like he was home.
Diluc comes to see Venti play again and again. Every day, he would be there, listening keenly to Venti’s music. Every day, he would treat Venti to wine, chatting with him about Venti’s songs, about his day, about anything that might come to mind to him.
“I’ve been thinking,” Diluc says one day. “I wonder if it’s your power that drew me to you.”
“My power?” Venti asks with a tilt of his head.
“You have a wind vision, do you not?” Diluc asks, his expression serious. “Could it be that our visions are drawn to one another?”
What Venti has is not a vision. After all, archons do not have vision. Archons have power akin to it but are completely different. Still, Venti wears his fake vision, dangling on his hips as he always did. The fake vision can transform into a lyre, which is handy.
So for the simple fact that Venti does not have a vision, Diluc’s dreams can’t be caused by their visions reacting to one another.
But there’s nothing all too wrong with letting Diluc believe that. Perhaps, with this, he will be satisfied. Perhaps, with this, he will stop pursuing Venti, looking for answers that Venti is never going to give to him.
“Maybe,” Venti says after his deliberation. “It could be that.”
Diluc nods firmly. It seems like he’s satisfied with this explanation.
“So now that you have your answer,” Venti starts, wearing a wry smile on his face. “Are you going to stop visiting me?”
It’s he who edges Diluc towards that answer. He who should want Diluc to leave him be. Yet there’s something a little lonely about not seeing Diluc again. Venti may be endeared by this Diluc in front of him now.
“Do you want me to stop visiting you?” Diluc asks.
Venti finds that he cannot answer. Yes, please stop should be the answer, the best one to protect himself. No, please don’t is what he wants to say. So he settles for silence, a loss of words as he looks at Diluc. As Diluc looks back at him, expecting some sort of answer.
In the end, Venti looks away from Diluc, facing his wine glass instead as he chuckles.
“What do you want, Master Diluc?” he asks.
“I don’t want to stop seeing you,” Diluc says firmly. Then, plainly and earnestly: “I love your songs.”
“My songs about Barbatos?” Venti asks, tilting his head towards Diluc. He’s unable to hold back a smile at Diluc’s words. A thousand years ago, it had taken Diluc years to tell Venti that he loved his songs. Now, it took this Diluc a little over a month.
“Somehow, the Barbatos in your songs is so lively,” Diluc says. He seems slightly embarrassed by this confession, a soft pink tint visible on his pale cheeks. “It’s drawing me to him.”
The stories Venti tells in his songs, he had told to Diluc before. The stories Venti tells in his songs are those dear to his heart. And among those stories are stories of him and the man he used to love.
No, as he sits here, slightly inebriated, under Diluc’s gaze, he realizes they are stories of a man he still loves. That a thousand years did nothing to dampen his feelings for Diluc Ragnvindr.
“You talk well, Master Diluc,” Venti murmurs softly.
“Enough to get you to go to dinner with me?” Diluc asks.
How clever, how sneaky. Asking Venti when he’s soft and somewhat vulnerable. Venti could almost feel a yes slipping from between his tongue.
“Maybe,” he settles for instead. “Maybe, I will go to dinner with you.”
As much as he should say no. As much as he wants to say yes.
Venti finds himself, this time, on the hand of the statue in front of the church. This remains his favorite place to be. The skyscape of Mondstadt might be different now, with tall buildings jutting out into the sky, but Mondstadt is still beautiful this way.
This time, Venti is not drinking a cheap beer from a convenience store. This time, Venti is drinking a wine he’s nabbed from Angel’s Share. He will pay for it, eventually, with his songs and with his stories. But this wine is the perfect companion as he watches the city below him and thinks.
He’s in love with Diluc once more. Silly Venti, he berates himself in his mind. He knows this shouldn’t happen. He knows that this is just going to lead to heartbreak. He knows that this may lead him away from Mondstadt for another thousand years at the end of it.
No, even the thousand years did not do him good. It isn’t so much that he’s in love with Diluc again. It’s how he’s never loved loving Diluc. Not even as he tries to put the memory of them together away. Not even with a thousand years and seven nations on his skin.
“There you are.”
The voice, familiar, firm, comforting. This voice, warm as Diluc had always been.
Venti turns around to see Diluc behind him. And at the sight, Venti smiles at the young master.
“How did you find me?” Venti asks.
“I had a dream once,” Diluc says. “That I chased you all the way here after you stole a bottle of wine. So when I heard a bottle of wine is missing from Angel’s Share, I decided to try out this theory.”
That did happen before. Early in their relationship, Venti stole a bottle of wine and Diluc went to find him. Back then, he did not return the bottle. And feeling the bottle in his hand right now light looks like he’s not returning this one either.
“I’ll pay,” Venti laughs softly. “In form of a song or a story.”
“That’s fine by me,” Diluc shrugs. “How about now?”
“Now?” Venti asks.
“Now,” Diluc pushes. He takes a seat on the statue’s hand right by Venti’s side.
“Alright,” Venti says with a smile. He manifests his lyre in his hand as he begins playing a gentle song. This is the song he played for Diluc a thousand years back when Diluc caught him stealing his wine. The song that first brought them together.
The song is now flowing right through Mondstadt, carried by the wind. Venti keeps playing until the end, the melody fading into its finale.
“Beautiful,” Diluc murmurs.
And Venti isn’t sure what he means. Is it the song, the simple clean melody? Is it Mondstadt, the city they both love? Or is it perhaps Venti himself?
They face each other, Diluc looking straight at him. Venti a little breathless. And all at once, Diluc leans in, kissing Venti on the lips. His kiss is as Venti remembers it, slightly rough, warm lips.
Ah, even the kiss is the same, Venti thinks to himself. Ah, this is Diluc, the Diluc he loves all this time. The Diluc he longs for in the deepest part of his heart.
He feels tears, welling up from his eyes. They’re tears remembering what they used to be. Tears remembering that he once loved and was loved back in return. Tears, knowing that even if he’s to indulge in this love again now, it is never going to last.
Venti pushes Diluc away, confusing the man before him.
“I’m sorry,” Venti mutters.
He summons his wind to carry him away. Leaving Diluc there, stunned. Leaving Diluc there, with the echo of a song.
“I could give you Dawn Winery,” Diluc said. Venti was leaning on his chest, softer now that he was no longer fighting every day to keep his form. “Wouldn’t you like that? You can test out all the wine.”
But Venti shook his head. Dawn Winery should belong to the Ragnvindr. That was how it always worked in Mondstadt. Diluc remained childless, his entire human life dedicated to Venti, but there were other Ragnvindr around. Others who would be better suited for running a business than a flighty god of the wind.
“Once I’m gone, what would you do?”
Venti went quiet. He did not want to consider Diluc being gone. Not when he still had Diluc by his side, warm and alive. He did not want to consider being alone once more.
“Maybe,” Venti said quietly. “I would travel.”
But no, perfection was this moment, with them together. Perfection was being by Diluc’s side. Venti said nothing. He closed his eyes and listened to Diluc’s heartbeat.
He indulged for as long as he could.
“Let me walk you home.”
Diluc shows up at Angel’s Share late that night. Late enough that the bar is now closing, with only Venti, the bartender, and a couple of passed out drunks left inside. Late enough that Venti thought that he wouldn’t come at all, not after what happened yesterday. And he would not blame Diluc if he would hate him now.
Yet here is Diluc, right in front of him, offering him to walk him home.
“I’m fine,” Venti tries to shrug it off. After all, he has no home to go back to. Perhaps he could go to the tree in Windrise, but there’s no house there.
“I insist,” Diluc says. “I have something to talk to you about.”
Venti goes quiet. But after what happened yesterday, perhaps this is the least he could do for Diluc. Not every day you would kiss someone, only for them to cry then run away.
He walks out with Diluc by his side, wondering what Diluc wants to say. Perhaps Diluc doesn’t want him playing at Angel’s Share anymore. Perhaps Diluc wants an explanation for what happened yesterday.
An explanation that Venti would not be able to give. Now that he’s stepped away from the moment, it all feels silly. He wouldn’t be able to put it in words coherently. Not to himself, and definitely not to Diluc.
“I know,” Diluc says quietly as they step out into the city. “That you don’t have a home to go back to.”
“Ah, well,” Venti is about to start, trailing off as he tries to think of an excuse.
But Diluc continues.
“I know you’re not human.”
Venti goes quiet at these words.
“I had a dream after our kiss last night,” Diluc explains. “A dream, clearer than ever. A dream of me, dying in bed with you by my side. But the funny thing is you by my side at that time looked young. You looked exactly the same as now. As every other dream that I had with you in it.”
“That’s,” Venti starts, then he stops, shaking his head. “I don’t exactly try to hide it, it’s just that most people won’t believe it.”
“Is that why you kept pushing me away?” Diluc asks, a direct, piercing question right through the heart.
Venti smiles wryly at this before nodding. There’s no need to lie about that now.
“Venti,” Diluc calls out his name, the name he’s chosen, still sounding so beautiful in that voice. “I don’t know how else to say this, but I’m in love with you.”
Venti feels breathless. He feels like he’s hit by a tornado that even in his capacity as an archon, he cannot control. He feels himself spinning out.
Because he loves Diluc. He’s always loved Diluc.
“I can’t,” he manages. “I can’t do this again.”
“Do you not love me anymore?”
Venti laughs breathily, shaking his head furiously. He can’t say that. He can’t say that he does not love Diluc. Not when seeing Diluc again brings out all the feelings he wanted to hide. Not when Diluc looks at him like he’s everything in the world.
“I love you,” Venti admits breathlessly. “I’ve never stopped loving you.”
“And that’s the same for me,” Diluc says softly.
He pushes a strand of Venti’s hair away behind his ear, those red eyes looking straight at Venti’s. At that moment, it really feels like this is all that should matter. That they love each other. That they are inevitably pulled towards one another.
“Look,” Diluc says. He picks up Venti’s hand in his own. “I know I can’t give you much, but I can promise you one thing.”
Venti looks at Diluc. He looks at Diluc with that all too earnest expression on his face. Diluc, looking at him like he’s truly everything that matters. That they together are truly what matters.
“What?” Venti manages to say, his voice sounding more like a croak than anything else.
“I promise that even if this could only last a human’s lifetime, I’ll always come to look for you,” Diluc says. “Always, in every life.”
Then, he bows down to Venti, bringing Venti’s hands to his lips. He places a kiss on the back of Venti’s hand, gentle, true, everything that Venti has missed in all these years. Love, genuinely so.
“That’s not fair,” Venti says. “That’s really not fair.”
He lifts Diluc’s chin towards him. He looks right into Diluc’s eyes for a short moment, for a pause. Then, he leans in close, placing a kiss on Diluc’s lips.
Rough, warm, and everything Venti knows he will never get over.
Everything that Venti knows he doesn’t want to get over.